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American Idol Recap: What Exactly Is the Voting Strategy Here?

AMERICAN IDOL: Ryan Seacrest reveals who is in danger of being eliminated on AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, March 22 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. L-R: Heejun Han, Erika Van Pelt, DeAndre Brackensick and Ryan Seacrest. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

So! Billy Joel Week ends exactly as it began (and remained for every second of its duration): as a great big obnoxious mess that makes me furious. 

The group number, predictably enough, is “The Longest Time.” It’s okay as these things go: a few botched lyrics, a few bum notes, almost everyone looking uncomfortable with the basic dance moves. It’s standard Idol procedure, really. But it does briefly help me forget Billy Joel’s original video for that song, which is so demeaning to black people it just got nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. 

And then it’s the Ford music video, in which the top ten play some kind of hide-and-seek game in an Ikea showroom house. Most of the finalists just do not have this in them at all; I cringe for them, because they are not contractually able to do it for themselves. But do you know who’s loving the shit out of it? Colton. A lifetime of church camps and face painting gets you good and psyched for some corporate-sponsored hiding and seeking.

Our first three up for elimination are Skylar, Hollie, and Elise, who is now trained like Pavlov’s dog to expect a bottom-three finish. Jimmy Iovine lobs some truthbombs from his Jimmybunker: Hollie was too reserved, Skylar has started walking in place, Elise was flawless. It’s interesting that none of the well-compensated people at the judges' table can do this simple thing, right? Anyway: Hollie is safe, Skylar is safe, and Elise ... is also safe, because this show likes to fuck with nice people.

If you came back late from the commercial break, Marcia Strassman from Welcome Back, Kotter was not kidnapped, drugged, and forced to perform in a Laotian nightclub. No, in fact that was Lana Del Rey, a young singer who is the inexplicable recipient of this year’s Attention. Lana Del Rey is Britney Spears for people who wish Britney Spears had started her career singing “Gimme More” at the 2007 VMAs. Now, listen: I’m sure she’s a very nice person, and maybe detached and barely audible is her thing. But you know what? As things go, that’s a pretty weak one, and she’s not experienced or engaging enough a performer to pull it off. It’s perplexing, especially on American Idol; she looks and sounds like someone they wouldn’t just dismiss in the first audition, but follow with cameras out of the building, adding bonking and crashing sound effects in post.

I do not get Lana Del Rey.

But I do get birthdays! It’s Steven’s birthday this weekend, and the top ten have gathered onstage to serenade him. And then they part to reveal Joe Perry, who accompanies their rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Also, the Stage Oval displays the words HAPPY BIRTHDAY in bouncing letters; I know there has never been a consistent graphic-design aesthetic on this show, but I am still heartbroken to reveal that those letters are in Comic Sans. Man, oh man, this show is Slop City.

Joshua, Deandre, and Jessica are up next for their Jimmitization. Again, Le Iovine hits it on the head: Deandre was too bouncy, Joshua too overwrought, Jessica didn’t miss a note. I’m not as enthused about Jessica as he is — or you are — but she’s safe. Joshua gets this from Ryan: “You were a little out of your comfort zone last night ... but you were in the zone for America. You are safe.” Ugh. But the result is one that I can live with: Deandre is in the bottom three.

Back from break, Jennifer shoots a death-glare at the camera that I cannot interpret. Check this out:

It is the opposite of a smize. Someone must have made eye contact with her or something, because she is not having it. Anyway, Haley Reinhart comes out and does her new single “Free,” which I think I like, but I can’t tell because in its eleventh season, American Idol still can’t get its live sound-mixing game together. I will say this: She has enormous hair. Is enormous hair a thing now? We have a great abundance of stylists at this time in history, and as a result, everything is in. Big hair and flat hair. Short shorts and long pants. Dressing down and dressing up. Whole TV shows and magazines are built around the trends of the moment, yet Pink hasn’t changed her haircut in thirteen years. More people are more certain about how we should look in 2012 than in any other time in history, yet I still don’t have a clear idea of what 2012 looks like. I do know this, though, Randy: Man-brooches are not going to happen.

Last on the blocks: Phillip, Colton, Erika, and Heejun. Apparently Billy Joel e-mailed the production to say that Colton killed it, and in retrospect I guess he did well enough. But I wish that he weren’t such a basket of old lemons, because if he were a little bolder he might have seriously killed a “Summer, Highland Falls” or a “Streetlife Serenader.” Jimmy takes issue with Phillip’s rejection of his and Tommy Hilfiger’s advice, but he doesn’t have a leg to stand on; Phillip is a cute white boy with a guitar on American Idol and can therefore do exactly as he pleases. Jimmy says that Erika should be at the top of the pack for tonight, and I agree, but there are two spots left in the bottom two and I worry. But he saves his harshest words for Heejun: his performance was “like a bad Adam Sandler movie that went straight to DVD” (would that such a thing were achievable in our lifetime!), and “Interscope has to spend a lot of money on somebody who wins this show, and that’s not it.” Jimmy thinks Heejun is “disrespecting the entire process,” and I’m starting to think that that’s the whole point: Heejun is Sanjaya-ing himself on purpose, thereby subverting and benefiting from the Vote for the Worst treatment all at the same time. It’s genius, except for the making-noise part, which is awful.

Anyway. Colton gets this: “You’ve been safe for the last few weeks, but tonight things have changed ... because I’m not going to mess with you, because you’re safe.” Colton plays along, because maybe that’s what “punk rock” means in 2012, the fuck do I know? Erika is in the bottom three, and she runs to the safety couches on her way to retrieve a pair of plastic maracas from Elise. If she’s going to the Shame Stools again, she reasons, she’s bringing the party. I like this girl. I really do. Phillip is safe, of course.

So our bottom three is Heejun, Deandre, and Erika. Two of them deserve to go home, and one of those two is Deandre, who is sent to safety. This leaves us with Heejun and Erika, and leaves me with a terrible feeling. Indeed, Heejun is sent back to the couches, as Erika is our lowest-vote-getter. America, you are a dick.

The judges’ save is still in play, though, and Erika sings “I Believe in You & Me” in an attempt to get it. Her rendition is rougher, grittier, more emotional than the last time. It’s an honest performance from someone who really needs what this show can offer her. Young viewers: I will remind you that your favorites Phillip and Colton are cute, heterosexual, instrument-playing white males, a segment of the population that tends to succeed with or without your assistance. Slightly-older, slightly-non-reed-thin women like Erika need your vote, and the world needs for them to be popular. I will put it this way: Do you want to live in a world where Justin Guarini sang “Since U Been Gone”? Well, then start fucking voting like someone who knows the difference.

It’s pretty obvious that the judges aren’t going to save her, and that the best we can hope for is a respectful send-off, because she could and should have won this thing. But Steven and Jennifer don’t want to tarnish their brands by delivering unpleasant news, so they leave it to Randy, who gives one short, graceless “NAH.”

So. Erika Van Pelt went to the top ten of American Idol and all she got was this stupid haircut. It is a miscarriage of justice, and I’m legitimately having a private hoo-hoo over it. My suspicion is that she and Elise shared a fan base, and Elise’s outstanding performance this week siphoned off her votes. However it happened, it shouldn’t have, and if there’s a bright side, at least she has time for the whiskey I am determined to buy her.

In the meantime, what number do I call to get Lana Del Rey out of here? Is that a 311 kind of deal?

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX